The March Storm of 1962 - A Child’s Eye View
Damage to the Boardwalk looking north to the George Washington Hotel from Hess Apparel
Photo from the Beryl M. Dryden Collection
On March 6th in the evening my parents decided to go downtown (which is what we called the south end of town back then) to the Worcester County Dispensary. They drove down St. Louis Ave. to see how high the water was getting. My Dad always checked the barometer and it had been falling and they knew we were in for a bad North Easter storm. The water was high but not that bad. They made their purchases and when they tried to return by way of St. Louis Ave. they could not because the water was now up over the roadway and it was impassable. I remember them talking about how they had never seen the water rise so fast and that we had better get prepared for a bad storm.
My next memory is of waking up the next morning and our house was surrounded by water. The power was out and my father had a fire going in the fireplace. My grandparents waded over to our house and stayed for the rest of the storm. By this time we could see waves coming down 10th street from the ocean, and debris floating everywhere. The coast guard was beginning to send out their "Ducks" which were amphibious vehicles to rescue people whose homes were flooding. When my father built our house, he had built the foundation up one extra row of concrete blocks. At the time people told him it was a waste of money, water would never get that high where we were located. Because of that extra row, we never got any water in the house and it was 2 ft deep all around the house. My parents discussed whether we should evacuate on one of the Ducks but my father said that we would stay. He said that if the George Washington Hotel up on the boardwalk at 10 St. (we could see it from our front window) went, then we would evacuate. My mother said that if the GW goes, it will be too late to evacuate but Dad won out. I was at the age where I thought my Dad was the smartest person in the world so I wasn't scared.
We drew back all the curtains on the picture window that faced Philadelphia Ave. and watched the Ducks and boats and debris go by. Every time a Duck would go by, my father's little panel truck would float up and then settle back down from the wake.
Because the power was out, the meat in the freezer was thawing so my mother roasted an expensive lamb roast she was saving over the fire for dinner. We sure ate well that evening. We were warm and dry and for us kids it was a great adventure.
For three high tides the water surrounded our house. At low tide the water would recede to the edges of the yard. At the third high tide, the barometer was rising so my father knew the worst was over so when the tide began going out, we all put on hip boots and waded out into the yard with sticks and pushed the piled up debris out into the street so it would go out with the tide. My most vivid memory is of hundreds of those toothpicks with the frilly ends that are used in bars and restaurants floating among the boards and pieces of furniture. Even after all these years, if I see one of those toothpicks, I am reminded of that time.
The storm passed and the water receded and we began to go outside to see what damage had been done. The next day my father tried to start his little panel truck and it started right up so we decided to drive around and see what had happened to everything.
The damage was beyond imaginable. Some buildings were just gone. Some were piles of rubble. Dick Lohemeyer (who had rented an apartment from my Grandmother for a few years) had just built his apartment building, The Coronado. Nothing was left but rubble. It looked so sad. We rode up to 70 something street to see the new inlet that had been cut there by the ocean. I saw a car on the bank of the inlet half buried in the sand. Sand covered every street and debris was everywhere. My parents would not allow us to walk up to the beach to look at first because of all the debris. When we finally did, there was no boardwalk. The damage to the buildings along the boardwalk (the ones that were left) was nearly total on the oceanfront. Besides the damage they were filled with sand.
The state brought in the National Guard to make sure there would be no looting, not by the residents of Ocean City, there were barely 1000 permanent residents of the island and were of old Eastern Shore stock and not likely to show that kind of behavior, as were all the people of west Ocean City and the towns on the west side of the bay, but looting by outsiders looking for easy pickings. I remember Guardsmen standing on corners.
Eventually the sand was pushed back up to the beach and the debris was collected and piled in huge piles on the ball field and elementary school lot (now city hall) and burned. As the piles burned down, more was added. They burned for weeks and weeks.
People returned to their homes, we returned to school and swapped stories with our schoolmates and for us children, life went on as normal. For the adults, it was a spring of hard work and some hard times. I am sure there were many prayers of gratitude for coming thru the storm with our lives, but there were also prayers for a good summer to get us back on our feet. Those prayers were answered and Ocean City lived on.
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